The Patriots Are Owning the NFL without Tom Brady

This is may be Bill Belichick's sweetest coaching triumph.

Jacoby Brissett

Image via AP

There are only four quarters left in Tom Brady’s suspension. Time flies when you’re having fun.

The Patriots’ 27-0 win over the Houston Texans Thursday was their most impressive performance in the Without Brady era. With a rookie quarterback starting against one of the best defenses in the league on just three days of preparation, the Patriots were underdogs at home for only the third time since 2005. But the oddsmakers apparently forgot one simple X-Factor: Bill Belichick is a football savant, whereas most of his opponents can’t get out of their own way.

That was the case Thursday, as the Texans embarrassed themselves at Gillette Stadium once again. They didn’t wear letterman jackets into Foxborough before getting smoked, which happened on a fateful Monday night in 2012, but their depantsing was just as humiliating. Houston fumbled on two kickoff returns, which gave the Patriots great starting field position and essentially spotted them two touchdowns. Quarterback Brock Osweiler, who signed a whopping $72 million deal with the Texans in free agency, didn’t even lead his team into New England territory until there was 1:35 left in the third quarter.

The game plan for Jacoby Brissett was, in a word, brilliant. Since 2007, the Patriots have only averaged more than 30 rushes per game during a season once, when Brady tore his ACL in 2008. But on Thursday, they ran the ball 39 times. Belichick and Josh McDaniels completely changed the offense, running reverses and allowing Brissett to take off in the pocket. The highlight of Brissett’s night was a 27-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, which featured him tossing aside a Texans defender like a rag doll. (Fortunately for Brissett, Belichick returned the game ball that he had handed him after scoring.)

Heading into the game, much of the conversation centered around Belichick’s curious decision to not pick up a backup quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo’s absence. But per usual, the criticism wound up being moot. The Patriots neutralized the notorious Texans pass-rush and held them to one sack. J.J. Watt, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year, recorded just two measly tackles. They did all of this without a fully available Rob Gronkowski, by the way, who played only 14 snaps in his season debut.

It wasn’t an explosive game for Brissett by any stretch—13 of his 19 passes traveled less than 10 yards in the air—but he managed to protect the football. In the three games without Brady, neither Garoppolo nor Brissett have thrown an interception.

It’s a stretch to say the Deflategate punishment failed, considering the Patriots lost a first round pick this year. But their play on the field has been a major “F-U” to the commissioner’s office and the owners around the league who championed Roger Goodell’s draconian penalty. You can take away one of the best quarterbacks of all-time for a quarter of the season, but you can’t stop the seeming inevitability of another Patriots Super Bowl run.

Heading into the season, there were a lot of questions about how the Patriots would survive without Brady. But now, the only question is whether they’ll be traveling for the AFC Championship or staying home in Foxborough. This may be Belichick’s sweetest coaching triumph.